Critics say the laws unfairly target minority youth, while officials say they’re meant to help keep young people safe.
Less than 30 minutes before their 10 p.m. curfew, four teenage boys chased each other in downtown Minneapolis, hopping through construction tunnels and over guardrails. They stopped outside a convenience store and loitered with a group of older teens to pass the time.
After about 10 minutes, an employee came outside and told the group to move along.
“We stay out until 2 a.m. all the time on the weekend and the police don’t bother us,” said one of the boys, Jojo, 13, “and if we do see them, we run.”
Like many big cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul have laws that require anyone under the age of 18 to be off the streets by a certain hour. Officials say the laws are designed to protect young people from harm, but they are also used to prevent juvenile crime.
St. Paul police, for example, have stepped up enforcement of that city’s curfew laws in response to gang activity last summer that resulted in the death of one teenager and the near fatal beating of an East Side resident, Ray Widstrand.
But enforcement of those laws can vary widely from one city or one neighborhood to the next. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups note that black youth are more likely to be picked up for violating curfew than white ones.
Status crimes, like curfews, are “a way for the police, we believe, to get fingerprints and mug shots of minority kids. … And we think that’s tremendously inappropriate,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota ACLU.
However, officials said juveniles who violate curfew in Hennepin County are not fingerprinted, photographed or criminalized in any way. The laws are a two-way street, aimed at also protecting young people from “nasty stuff” that takes place late at night, said County Attorney Mike Freeman.
“We’re not only protecting society from what the kid might do, we’re protecting the kid from what society might do to [them],” he said.
In St. Paul and Minneapolis, kids who get caught most often do community service, pay a fine or enter programs to help keep them off the streets.
In Minneapolis, violators are usually taken to the Juvenile Supervision Center, located downtown in City Hall. Workers offer counseling, recreation and social programs and alert the parents to come get them.
Data requested by the Star Tribune from the center show that about three-fourths of the youths cited for curfew violations so far this year are black.
The Third Precinct in south Minneapolis reported the highest number of curfew violations, averaging five a week, followed by downtown, the North Side, northeast, then southwest, with about one per week, according to data through the first six months of 2014. About 70 percent of those picked up are black, about 6 percent white, the data showed.
In the summer, the number of kids picked up for violating curfew jumps from an average of 13 a week to about 40.
Freeman said officers pick up kids when they have time and enforcement varies by precinct. So, while more curfew violators are picked up in south Minneapolis, it’s not necessarily because there are more of them out late, he said. It’s because those officers are more vigilant about enforcing curfew.
Another factor is the number of officers available. With the Minneapolis Police Department at its lowest staffing level in at least 10 years, officers go where they are most needed — areas of higher crime, Freeman said.
“The more cop cars there are around, the more likely the kids will be caught hanging on the street corner,” he said.